Worried about your safety?

ThinkstockPhotos 598700166By Robert Slocomb 

“There is no best solution to a safety problem. There are a variety of directions to go. Each of these directions may produce some degree of risk reduction.”  Air Force Safety Handbook

Every year, companies large and small spend fortunes on safety, and the heavy civil company I work for is no exception. It’s impossible to say which safety methods work best, because all systems have varying degrees of reducing risk. 

I’m a safety guy. I work the field. I understand safety well enough to know that you get better results from a company that supports safety from the top.  But the field?  Let’s be honest, selling safety to field employees is a difficult business – you never really know what will make that dent in your injury rate. 

One thing that really works is this – safety is best when it’s kept simple and local. Years in the safety saddle assures me that if you want to sell safety then first find out what your people believe in. Is it money? Family? A sense of job security? Respect? Or is it the corporate safety line?  Go into the field and do the unthinkable: open people up, and let them talk about themselves. Listen hard and you’ll find what they care for most. Take some more steps and learn where to plant your safety seed in their mix. 

An initial way of doing this is to memorize names. Your superintendent, foremen, mechanics, laborers, subcontractors – they all deserve respect. Think your mind can’t handle the load? It can. Then start greeting them by name during your walks. You’ll find people greeting you back and then some. Focused consistency brings a big pay-off in how they look at training, new protocols, and even corrections. Rewards multiply when previously unsafe people become safer before your eyes. Set the bar for trust, fairness, and a consistency of respect because these three pay dividends.

They say that company leaders must buy into safety for it to work. The disconnect comes when we believe our field personnel see what we see from our lofty heights. “Why,” you ask. “Don’t people follow such obvious safety rules? Don’t they want to go home in one piece?” Workers thinking about their families may, but not enough to guarantee their own safety. Surprisingly, they sometimes believe that being unsafe is their best approach to job security.   

You want field workers to follow your lead and be safe all the time? Remind them daily that safety matters here and at home. Plant the seed firmly with, “Your mother and me can’t be the only ones worried about your safety!” Sure it's funny, but it doesn’t get more local than that.

Robert Slocomb works in Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and Virginia as a senior safety specialist for PC Construction Co. building water and waste water plants. He can be reached at 202-821-6621.

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